“I ain’t got time to reminisce old novelties,” Axl Rose sings in Yesterdays, a song Guns N’ Roses performed tonight for the first time on the American leg of their Not In This Lifetime tour.
It’s the group’s first official hometown show featuring Axl, Slash and Duff McKagan since GNR and Metallica played Pasadena’s Rose Bowl for a crowd of 68,000 in 1992. Tonight’s attendance at the sold-out Dodger Stadium (where they’ll play again tonight) won’t exceed that figure, but it’s still the largest local headline date they’ve ever performed. Of course, the recent return of Slash and Duff re-writes the script entirely, and hundreds of thousands of fans who checked out somewhere along the way have returned en masse to re-embrace the band – but is it just to reminisce old novelties?
Considering the band’s public silence this year, the answer remains ambiguous. GNR’s current tour is a rock’n’roll Rorschach Test that can be interpreted in a number of different ways: The most dangerous band on the planet returning to settle unfinished business and conquer the world all over again; a scorched-earth, nostalgia-fuelled victory lap cash-out; or, perhaps, a foundation on which they’ll eventually forge new ground in the same way they’re presently re-writing the rules of the “reunion tour.”
There’s a certain beauty in that ambiguity, as it allows GNR to be whatever you want them to be. But whether you’re a true believer, a cynic or somewhere in between, it’s impossible to deny the band’s live power. Over the course of tonight’s two-hour-and-forty-minute show, there are numerous pinch-yourself moments – the monstrous riff of Coma, the primal screams of Live and Let Die, the haunting guitar lines of Estranged – where you not only marvel that yes, this really is happening, and even better, it’s fucking incredible.
As the show-ending Paradise City drops jaws with more fireworks in one song than a full Kiss concert, you even start to wonder if this might be the opening act to the rare sequel that doesn’t pale in comparison to the original.
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On the downside, high ticket prices – outfield seats are $275 – guarantees an older demographic, and many of the fans in attendance seem to be trying to look as cool as they did 30 years ago. Others don’t bother, such as the group who take turns passing an infant back and forth, or those far more interested in selfies and social media than the show itself.
For the most part, Axl, Slash and Duff keep their distance from one another throughout the show, but there’s a great moment prior to November Rain when the latter two flank Axl’s piano as they play the outro of Layla, one of several nods to the classics in addition to the expected Wings and Dylan covers. Whether they’re BFF’s nowadays or simply business partners, there’s a lesson to be learned about the merits of settling old scores.
On the way back to the car, it’s extraordinary to hear the number of different foreign languages being spoken, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a destination show for a huge number of international fans. You’re reminded of the extent of the reach the band once had – hell, continues to have. While it’s doubtful GNR will ever inspire a Wyld Stallyns-like level of universal harmony, who knows? Maybe all we need is just a little patience.
All pics: Katarina Benzova
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Out Ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Catcher in The Rye
The Seeker (The Who cover)